scispace - formally typeset

Understanding Robert Coover

01 Jan 2003-

TL;DR: In this paper, the authors take on the work of Robert Coover, a major figure of post-modern metafiction, and present an analysis of Coover's short stories and novels, demonstrating how Coover writes in several different modes that cross over into one another.

AbstractThis text takes on the work of Robert Coover, a major figure of postmodern metafiction. In an analysis of Coover's short stories and novels, it demonstrates how Coover writes in several different modes that cross over into one another. more

More filters
Journal Article
TL;DR: Coover's 2004 novel, "Stepmother" as discussed by the authors, takes on the wicked stepmother figure of fairy-tale tradition and offers a more complex depiction of the character, but it does not address the role of stepmothers in fairy tales.
Abstract: The wicked stepmother is a staple of the popular fairy-tale tradition and arguably its most famous villain. While she wasn't always wicked or always a stepmother in folklore tradition, the wicked stepmother can be found in a variety of well-known Western fairy tales. The Brothers Grimm feature some of the best-known stepmothers, such as those in "Cinderella" (ATU 510A), "Snow White" (ATU 709), and "Hansel and Gretel" (ATU 327A) as well as lesserknown stepmothers, such as those in "The Six Swans" (ATU 450) and "The Juniper Tree" (ATU 720), all of whom are wicked. Walt Disney took the Grimms' wicked stepmother and gave her an unforgettable face in his 1937 film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White's stepmother stands out for her terrifying image as the wicked queen. Since then, the wicked stepmother has become a stock figure, a fairy-tale type that invokes a vivid image at the mention of her role - so much so that stepmothers in general have had to fight against their fairy-tale reflections. A quick Internet search for the term "wicked stepmother" will produce hundreds of websites dedicated to the plight of stepmothers fighting against the "wicked" moniker they have inherited from fairy tales. Robert Coover's 2004 novel, Stepmother, takes on the wicked stepmother figure of fairy-tale tradition and offers a more complex depiction of the character. The plot of Coover's novel is quite simple; the novel, however, is far from simple. Stepmother, the title character and the novel's protagonist, is trying to save her daughter's life. Her unnamed daughter has been found guilty of an unnamed crime against the court of Reaper's Woods and is to be executed. Stepmother breaks her daughter out of prison, and the two of them flee to the woods. Stepmother hides her daughter and, once the daughter is recaptured, tries various schemes to prevent, or at least to delay, the planned execution. She tries appealing to the Reaper, her arch enemy and the authority in the woods, with magic, sex, and reason, but she fails. Her daughter is executed, and Stepmother seeks vengeance. The execution of her daughter and Stepmother's subsequent revenge is not a new plot to Stepmother, as she repeats it over and again with each of her daughters, the many heroines of fairy-tale tradition: How many I've seen go this way, daughters, stepdaughters, whatever - some just turn up at my door, I'm never quite sure whose they are or where they come from - but I know where they go: to be drowned, hung, stoned, beheaded, burned at the stake, impaled, torn apart, shot, put to the sword, boiled in oil, dragged down the street in barrels studded on the inside with nails or nailed into barrels with holes drilled in them and rolled into the river. Their going always sickens me and the deep self-righteous laughter of their executioners causes the bile to rise, and for a time thereafter I unleash a storm of hell, or at least what's in my meager power to raise, and so do my beautiful wild daughters, it's a kind of violent mourning, and so they come down on us again and more daughters are caught up in what the Reaper calls the noble toils of justice and thus we keep the cycle going, rolling along through this timeless time like those tumbling nail-studded barrels. (1-2) Stepmother explains that there is nothing new in what we are about to read; she has experienced it all before and will experience it all again. But she still has to try to save her daughter, and as readers we are left with the impression that she will keep trying with each new daughter's appearance. The impetus of the novel is summed up in its second sentence, narrated by Stepmother: "my poor desperate daughter, her head is locked on one thing and one thing only: how to escape her inescapable fate" (1). Throughout the novel, Stepmother and other characters struggle against their predetermined fairy-tale functions. Despite recognizing the "inescapability" of their fates, they still try to change the cycle of events they know will unfold by manipulating fairy-tale patterns to their advantage. …

10 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: In this article, the authors discuss some of the techniques used by the American writer Robert Coover in his story collection; Pricksongs & Descants (1969) which are associated with postmodernist fiction.
Abstract: The modes of narration in postmodernist fiction are not identical with those of modernists and realists. They contravene readers’ expectations, making them most often astounded and baffled. This study sets out to discuss some of the techniques used by the American writer Robert Coover in his story collection; Pricksongs & Descants (1969) which are associated with postmodernist fiction. These strategies including metafictional techniques, fragmentation, ontological concern, and temporal distortion, will in the subsequent sections of this paper be explicated and elucidated. In this regard, the term postmodernism will be first defined and elaborated, and then some of the salient features of Coover’s selected work stated above, will be examined in order to demonstrate the title-mentioned claim. Not all the stories of the collection will in this study be provided an analysis of, but those which are of greater significance and are noticeable in incorporating postmodern strategies. Coover, it is argued, in the above-mentioned work, depicts events and situations most of which at odds with what readers are used to being provided with. Readers in Coover’s are thus no longer passive recipients of the created world of the author, but active during the narratives and are invited to make things out and come to a conclusion about the plausible outcome of events.

5 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: In this paper, the authors examine the specificity of alternate space-times in Robert Coover's most challenged texts in terms of ontology and depict their ontological landscapes in the form of stories within stories or representations, such as descriptions of photographs, games, movies, and TV programs.
Abstract: Our reality or actual space–time is composed of highly complex and indeterminate but interconnected structures, and both natural sciences and contemporary literature refer to it as a world of pluralized rhythms and emergent potentialities, always becoming, in which values are relative and process-dependent. Aware of the discontinuity and relativity of any space–time creation, including our experiential reality and fictive realities generated by our minds, this article attempts to discern potential space-times in Robert Coover’s texts and depict their ontological landscapes. These ontological realms are often presented as characters’ self-generated fictions into which they get so immersed that they lose the ability to discern the real from the fictive, as they switch from one world to the other. This permits the protagonists’ momentary escape, but also causes their psychic fragmentation, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. In the form of stories within stories or as representations, such as descriptions of photographs, games, movies, and TV programs, Coover’s texts demonstrate interconnections of fictional and real space-times, blurring their borderlines, and even collapsing into one another. Throughout his opus, Coover is raising questions about the nature of reality, being and becoming, including the query that concerns ontological issues of text and world, fact and fiction, creator and creature, and how does a specific space-time emerge, solidify, and evolve. Thus, the purpose of this article is to examine the specificity of alternate space-times in Robert Coover’s most challenged texts in terms of ontology.

4 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: One of the most popular genres of fairy tales is the Aarne-Thompson type 410 story as mentioned in this paper, which is based on the fourteenth-century French Arthurian story Perceforest.
Abstract: Postmodernist fiction usually addresses certain semiotic concerns about the relationship between language and things, between word and world. Its literary techniques cast doubt on what we tend to call "real": the world in its social-if not material-manifestation, the subject as an entity, historical "facts" and "grand narratives" as global, totalizing explanations for society and the human condition. The world is experienced and conveyed through language, and the charges against those "truths" range from seeing them as tainted by the medium to assuming they are entirely created by it. The world itself is radically called into question, and the status of reality and our place in it are unclear. Postmodernism creates ontological uncertainties where modernism posed mainly epistemological ones (McHale 6-11). Art has not been considered to be a reliable mirror of reality since the onset of modernism in art about a hundred years ago. By now it is not even believed to provide a source of meaning or order in the face of general chaos. The resulting literary practice involves techniques that reveal both the processes through which fiction produces meaning and the artificial status of fictional constructs. This can be achieved through implicit or explicit reflection on construction and product: metafiction. Also, traditional forms of narrative logic are broken and a radical destabilization of the fictional world and its principles results. One way of contemplating the fictional construction of meaning is conscious intertextuality. The idea of the author as original creator has long been challenged, and a number of theories regard all texts as intertextual, as they may all just be networks of quotations and incorporations of existing texts.1 Postmodern texts, however, often directly address this problem by referring, in one way or another, to specific texts or genres. The results have been called parodies by Linda Hutcheon (22), pastiches by Fredric Jameson (72), or palimpsests by Gerard Genette (532). In order to understand them, the reader needs to have internalized a set of rules and conventions of the parodied works or genres, that is, possess a specific competence (which may well be unconscious). Only then can readers understand and judge a particular performance.2 One of the genres used by postmodernist writers is the classical fairy tale, and their stories demand to be read in relation to fairy-tale traditions. Judgments about these stories use our competence, which determines our expectations of them. These expectations are indirectly or directly addressed, and we are therefore forced to question our understanding of those tales. In using formula fiction to create pastiche, palimpsest, or parody, artists expose the mechanisms that make up our competence in understanding them. Formulaic fiction-and fairy tales can be counted as an example of this-emphasizes the logic and dynamic of certain forms of plot and is rule-driven. Postmodernist writers use it parodically to show how worlds are constructed through narrative. The stylized characteristics of a genre, consciously, that is, metafictionally, applied, present stories as organized art, as games with certain rules. Briar Rose "Dornroschen" is one of the best-known tales from the Grimms' collection, but like most of them has predecessors in other European countries. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile collected fifty stories in his Pentamerone, which originate from the oral tradition but were written down in baroque style. His "Sun, Moon, and Talia" resembles the later "Dornroschen." The French writer Charles Perrault closed his 1697 collection of tales with "La belle au bois dormant." But even much earlier, the basic elements of the Aarne-Thompson type 410 tale can be found in an episode of the fourteenth-century French Arthurian story Perceforest (Thompson 97). In the famous and still the most widely known version by the brothers Grimm (adapted by Disney for their animated film), the royal couple celebrates the birth of their long-wanted child. …

4 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
01 Jan 2011-Symploke
TL;DR: A Night at the Movies as mentioned in this paper is a collection of short fictions written by Robert Coover during the late seventies and early eighties and miscellaneously published in 1987.
Abstract: A Night at the Movies, or, You Must Remember This (1987) is a collection of short fictions written by Robert Coover during the late seventies and early eighties and miscellaneously published in 1987.1 In comparison to Coover’s more overtly sociopolitical works—The Public Burning (1977), which denounces the social fascism of the American establishment through the narration of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s execution, and The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968), where the thirst for individual power leads to solipsism and demise—A Night at the Movies engages with a comprehensive media discourse that was redefining its theories and boundaries at the delicate crossroads of the Ford-Carter-beginning-of-Reagan’s eras, between 1974 and 1981—the years when Coover wrote his stories. This was a time when global communication networks were being shaped (Turner founded CNN in 1980) and the Federal Communications Commission had begun to implement programming on, and diffusion of, basic cable television via satellite, positing the basis for a (quasi-)deregulated media proliferation.2 In parallel, a growing use of computer graphics in film and photography introduced digital image processing into analog practices (materializing bodies and objects over a given filmed background), so that new notions of reproducibility and simulation were challenging traditional visual arts and modes of representation.3 Attuned to these transformations of the media scenario, Coover proposes in A Night at the Movies an ungovernable universe of simulacra, where the characters (and the reader) find themselves at a loss, facing the undecipherable nature of reality when massively transformed into “reel.”

3 citations